Another #MeToo History
My personal history of what I experienced and what I saw inflicted upon other women throughout my life
I was raised in a rigid fundamentalist Christian family. I always dressed modestly; I never wore skirts shorter than ankle-length. I even wore shorts that were just above my knee — we used to call them peddle-pushers and even those were not allowed except to play outside at home. I always wore a baggy coverup at the pool or beach, even in the water. I wasn’t even allowed to wear jeans until I was fifteen, when my Gran intervened and personally bought me several pairs after I’d spent the Summer working for her away from home. In school, I was so painfully shy that I had speech therapy for a stutter — so I wasn’t flirting with anyone. I also made a personal commitment to purity and modesty when I started the youth group at church; I was fully invested in the choice to remain “pure” and to always be “modest.” Despite all my personal choices of purity and modesty, I experienced harassment and abuse all my life.
It’s not my intent to “out” anyone specifically. That’s a firestorm I’m still not ready to face. The first episode I can clearly recall is a male relative who felt the need to feel my nine year old chest for the little knots which announce the growth of prepubescent breasts and the need for a “training bra.” That same relative, on another occasion for reasons that remain unfathomable to me, decided to rub my nine-year old vagina over my underwear to “teach” me not to look at his dirty magazines just because I found them under his mattress while changing the sheets. Another time, that same relative rubbed his erect member between my pre-pubescent thighs. My mother learned of this incident, and that he’d done similar things to two of my younger sisters; she made promises to him of what ramifications she would pursue against the relative if he didn’t stop and change. That relative, she explained to me had done horribly wrong, but it was because he was drinking and had not dedicated himself to God; he did so after that incident, and nothing like that happened again with him. Because he quit drinking and “got right with God,” my sisters and I were told we must forgive and forget. He continued to be part of my childhood home and life.
When I was eleven, one of my younger sisters bragged at school that I’d started my period. I didn’t ask for that to inspire my school little league teammates to try to peep into the girls’ locker room at me — that didn’t stop the coach from dropping me from the team because you can’t expect boys not to be boys; yes, because, as the coach actually said, the “boys were just being boys,” so I had to leave the team; in other words, my body and the changes I was beginning were the problem, was shameful. It seemed as if, because I wanted to play baseball, it must have been my fault. No one fought for me; my mother thought I, as a girl, shouldn’t be playing a “boys game” and my father, working three and four jobs to support our family, seemed uninterested in anything to do with little girls in sports; neither parents ever attended even one of the half dozen games I played in at school.
Two female relatives bullied and manipulated me into something that left me feeling violated and betrayed at twelve years old. I still struggle to even remember it clearly. During her substance abuse therapy and recovery, one of those relatives recalled the incident to me nearly twenty years later, and expressed how shattered she felt to realize how she’d treated me.
Then there was that other male relative who kept making lewd remarks about my emerging pubescent body and what all the little boys must really be thinking. What made that relative think I wanted to have that conversation? I racked my brains for years, riddled with guilty, wondering what I must have done, at twelve and thirteen years old, to make that relative think that was the way to talk with me.
By the time I was in the eight grade, almost daily humiliations were my reality. In school, from the time I was in about the third grade, boys were a constant torment to me. In third grade, bra straps were for popping. In fifth grade and beyond, dresses and skirts were for flipping up or finding an excuse to get on the ground to look up under my skirt. From sixth grade onward, “Boobs” were for finding excuses to cup or mash. As my bosom grew, boys told each other — so I’d be sure to hear — that my breasts could only be growing because I was letting boys play with them. Tampons and sanitary pads were items to be nicked so they could color them with red markers and leave them on my desk. My crotch was there to be groped. And always, every day, there were the lewd remarks, the crude humor, the teasing… the bullying just for being an early-developing girl.
It was so bad, that at fourteen, I strapped down my burgeoning bosom and wore baggy layers — in FLORIDA’s sweltering heat — to hide my Dolly Parton-esque curves; it didn’t stop boys cornering me to cop-a-feel; it didn’t stop the teacher who kept asking if I wanted to be kissed; it didn’t stop the THIRTEEN boys who tried to drag me into the boys locker room to gang-rape me as I passed by on the way to take something to the office for the teacher so interested in whether I wanted to be kissed.
The outlets of being an artist and a poet were my only solace. I drew dark images that worried my parents — but not enough to question the causes. I composed poems about my pain and fears and the way the abuses made me feel. When my mother found some of my journals and sketch pads, her response was to destroy them. Most of those old creations were lost. The few that escaped her attempt to erase the less than picture perfect image she wanted to cultivate for the world, are searing… they still burn when I read them. But, my mother’s destruction of my creative expression silenced me for years. It took me decades to stop being ashamed of my artistic expressions of those times, to be able to share my writing at all. Now, I’m able to share my writing; I’ve even published an autobiographical ebook of poems. One of those surviving poems, is about that attempted gang-rape:
Walking… oh, please… don’t notice me…
The ruining corridors of pain…
These hallowed halls of entropy…
What learning ‘pon the blackboard
With vile tutelage in your halls?
Delinquent roving gangs violate your corners.
The squalid gasconade tumbling around me…
Filling my ears… coloring my fears… bleeding my soul…
Head down, closed arms ‘cross my books…
Walking… oh, please… don’t notice me…
I won’t! I won’t play your game!
I won’t be part of your juvenile throng!
So now you want to punish me.
Think, together, you’ll teach me to belong.
You’re all trying to take me…
Wanting to penetrate my body…
Break me… thrust beyond… below…
Trying to penetrate my soul…
Walking … Oh GOD! … don’t touch me!
I’ll scream! I won’t go down without a fight!
Your sweating, eager, hating, hungry, frightened faces…
“Shit! Shut up, puta!” JAB! “I’ll shut ‘er up!”
Dragging… wrangling… away from sunlit causeways…
Wretched, sniggering, giggle, snorting, wormy faces…
Ripping… snagging… dragging… grabbing…
JAB! STAB! “Shut her up!” I’ll keep screaming!
Oh GOD! This can’t be happening!
I’ll scream! I won’t go down without a fight!
Praying… screaming with raw throated sobs!
Slam and bang! Bright light so blinding…
Blessed sudden release… they let go… FLEE!
Curled around myself, scrabbling away from horror…
Someone’s still screaming…OH! It’s not me
Look up to see bodies wrecked and tumbling…
‘Fore th’angry, backlit silhouette of retribution…
Falling before my Avenging Angel!
I’m safe. But who has been my angel?
by D. Denise Dianaty aka MomzillaNC
©September 7, 2014
That happened in the eighth grade. In the office, the guidance counselor, that kiss-obsessed teacher, the vice principal, and the school cop sat in a room with me. After telling me that the boys were all already in juvy, the “grownups in the room” took turns explaining what might happen if I pressed charges. My parents would have to be called. I would have to tell everything… all the terrifying and humiliating details in an open courtroom, over and over and over again because each boy would probably have a separate trial. And, because they were already in juvenile detention until they aged out at eighteen, they might be tried as adults. Then the “young boys” could end up in prison with adult men who would do horrible things to them. I remember… I’m not sure if it was calculated — but, the adults in that room kept calling my attackers “boys” and “children” and “young boys” — it seemed really important… paramount to understand that I might be sending “children” into the hands of monsters in prison. And, I’d have to do it over and over again… I’d have to look my attackers in the eye in court and condemn children to horrors.
I scarcely recall the walk home… alone… in ill-fitting clothes from the school lost and found box to replace my clothes that had been torn and ruined. I don’t think I cried on that walk home. I don’t recall getting home before anyone else, as usual. I don’t recall eating the Sarah Lee poundcake from the freezer. I remember showering. I remember thinking the water smelled… or was that me? I remember hiding the Sarah Lee box at the bottom of the trash bin outside, and showering again because I’d been digging through the garbage to hide the box deep enough. I remember fixing the Hamburger Helper for the family supper, sitting at the dinner table with my parents and sisters as if everything was like it had always been. I remember going into the bathroom, locking the door, turning the water on to shower again, but making myself wretch until I saw blood in the toilet – the start of a months long bulimic pattern that only ended with what I perceived to be the cause of infection and viral illnesses I believed to have been a near-death sickness that landed me in the hospital for a protracted stay.
My father was in the Navy and we moved after the eighth grade. I hoped moving and entering high school would bring a change. That hope was quickly dashed. At first, we were in temporary housing on post, but moved by the time the school year began again in January. We moved to a rural community within driving distance of the base. I was awkward and shy, while at the same time, chubby and what was politely referred to as “well-endowed” by the grownups. That winter, at that new rural school, I got sick. The first few days I was out, one of my male classmates was also out. I’d never dated him. I’d never held his hand. I’d barely spoken to him. In choir, I did rehearse a duet with him for the Spring Chorale. But, when he returned to school before I did, he told everyone that I was still out because he “wore me out.” I came back to school as a virgin with a reputation as anything but.
After that year, my parents were approved for base housing and we moved again, back to the Navy base in permanent housing when I was sixteen. Again, I hoped for some change in a different town and new school. I fully embraced the new church’s philosophy of purity and modesty. In the NCO club dining room with my parents and younger sisters, wearing a blouse with a frilled neckline up to my chin and a skirt that hung down to my ankles, that modesty nor my youth didn’t stop the waiter from flirtatiously giving me a free desert; neither did it stop a navy chief in the NCO club on the base from hitting on me when I was coming back from a trip to the restroom.
In school, there remained that constant thrum… that undercurrent of lewd remarks and crude behavior from my classmates. Looking back, I do feel it was better in that school because there were no male teachers making uncomfortable comments to me. Additionally, if any teachers heard such comments or saw the behavior, they intervened. Yet, there was still the drive for me to cultivate what I hoped would be protective behaviors… busy-making behaviors that never really protected anything. The periphery of teachers intervening didn’t really connect with me, at that time though. For me, on the day of that attack in eighth grade, grownups had made it clear that I was on my own; no one was going to fight for me.
To me, it just seemed that Life kept proving that belief. When I was seventeen, a young sailor, just eighteen himself, was invited into my parents home with a couple of other sailors for the holiday meal, as was my parents tradition for the last few years before my father retired from the Navy. After that particular holiday meal, this young sailor started coming around my house to visit me. He played games with the family. He sat companionably and watched TV with the family. He shared meals with the family. After a couple of weeks, he asked my parents if he could take me to a movie. They agreed, if my mother chaperoned; she did so for two “dates.” Then, my parents decided he was “such a nice young gentleman” (their word) that he could pick me up in his car and take me on a “real date.” He took me to the enlisted club (for NCO’s below chief’s rank) for dinner. As an enlisted serviceman, he made a joke of the fact that he could have had a drink or two; however, he did not. After dinner, we walked, holding hands, to the base theater. He held my hand through the movie and, near the end, he put an arm around my shoulder. When the lights came up at the end of the movie, he put my jacket on my shoulders and kissed my cheek in a manner I took to be very sweet. We held hands on the walk back to his car, still parked at the club. At his car, he raised my hand to his lips and kissed it. I admit, I was flattered and nervously excited. He used my blushing as an excuse to caress my cheek as he gently teased me. He turned that caress into cupping my cheek as he gave me a quick, light kiss on the lips, as he opened the car door. All seeming normal and innocent… yes? It was everything a young girl hopes for her “first real date…” He held my hand on the drive home. All my modesty and blushing innocence didn’t stop him, still driving down the road, from pulling the hand he held to his lap, to place it around his erect, exposed member.
Then, there was the boy one of my three sisters liked. She flirted with him and even got into “heavy petting” sessions with him. She was known around the neighborhood to nap most days after school. He climbed in the window of her bedroom one day and raped her. As we were told as part of the explanation for why the police were not called, it “wasn’t violent” and she had no outward injuries. She finally told my parents after a couple of weeks. They took her to the hospital on post, where she was checked for STDs and pregnancy. But, the police were not called, because, as my parents explained, it was too late. No charges were discussed. At some point around that time, when my sister was not around, my own mother said of the rape that my sister and “enticed him.” The message, again, was clear: No one was going to fight for her. No one was going to fight for me.
I finally grew up and left home… escaped. However, Life wasn’t done proving to me that no one was going to fight for me… no one was going to fight for any woman.
As a young collegiate, still dedicated to personal choices of purity and modesty, I went to a campus-church organized, alcohol-free dance club — at a Christian college — with two of my dorm-mates. Only students of the college were allowed at this weekend only dance club. While my dorm-mates and I were taking a break from dancing, standing at the counter with our sodas, a guy came dancing up to us. Right there, in a church organized, alcohol-free environment, with two of my friends standing next to me, the guy started grinding up on me. When I felt the hardness of his groin against my leg, I looked down to see his erect member exposed from his unzipped fly.
As a young professional, my modesty didn’t protect me from lewd comments and gestures from men on the street, or construction workers, any more than it protected the nuns in full habit or the African immigrant hijabi woman I saw regularly harassed on the same walk to work.
On the job, it didn’t protect me from the male coworker who found excuses to have to push past me so close that he had to grind his hips against mine — face to face — all but dry humping me. My modesty didn’t keep my boss from worrying to me, that if he filed my complaint, my male coworker, who “has a wife and family” might lose his job over what was “probably just a misunderstanding” on my part.
Even women couldn’t be counted on to fight for me, or even stand with me. Almost without exception, those women had already told me outright that there was something wrong with me being a grown woman and still a virgin. More often than not, women who were not my closest friends seemed to be offended by my Faith-based commitment to purity and modesty; they seemed to see it as some sort of accusation or condemnation of themselves. Three such women, who were my housemates, even helped pressure and shame me along with a guy I was dating. My commitment to purity and modesty did not stop that guy from pressuring me, shaming me, pushing me, until he’d taken me. He lost all interest after he’d had the virgin — he was what my grandfather referred to as a “cherry picker.” But, I told myself, I’d put myself in that situation. I’d been dating him. I invited him into my room in the condo I shared with three other young professional women. I agreed it was better that he sleep on my floor than to try to drive home after those couple of glasses of wine.
Neither my modesty nor being a blissful newlywed protected me, on another job a couple of years later, from a male coworker who found an excuse to nudge my breast as he read my transcription of his report over my shoulder. Neither my modesty nor my professionalism made HR take my side when that male coworker claimed that there was just so much of my breasts, that he hadn’t “tried” to touch them, but they were just in the way. HR basically agreed it was my fault that my breasts existed.
Those lessons… I must have made choices that made me a target for abuse. After all, I’m the one who grew those enormous breasts. I’m the one who developed those curvaceous hips. I’m the one with red-gold hair, green eyes, and bright Southern smile. I MUST have chosen to be attractive — even though I was always (Ready for this kicker?) chubby and awkward. I must have chosen to be wanted by those men whom I never asked to desire me. That’s what Life taught me, teaches all us women and girls.
Another of my three sisters, when she was around thirty years old, was driving home on a lonely country road. Her truck broke down and she pulled to the side of the road and put the hood up. Even if she’d had a cellphone, there would have been no signal out there. A man — a complete stranger — stopped to offer her “help.” He violently raped her, then got back in his own vehicle and drove away… he just left her beaten and violated on the side of the road.
The statistics are appalling and disheartening. Every woman… Every single woman we know or will know has been — or will be — victims of gender discrimination and/or sexual harassment and/or sexual abuse and/or sexual assault. It is the very nature of being born female in this male-dominated, patriarchal world. This is our history and our culture… All those egregious messages for all of our male-dominated human history that we women are the problem… that, ultimately, “boys will be boys” if we women don’t change or control ourselves.
Most of the harassment incidences did NOT happen in isolation; other people, coworkers and peers, knew… they saw, heard, and/or experienced it too. Women talk about the rumors and sometimes even warn each other not to be alone with “him.” Men turn a blind eye or are titillated by the lewd remarks themselves. Not once, in all my years in the workplace, did I ever hear a man challenge another man for making a lewd joke in front of me or any other woman. I did see those men “get a kick” out of my and other women’s blushing and/or embarrassment.
Then, there are all those random micro-aggressions of which virtually all boys or men are guilty… behaviors and speech they casually and thoughtlessly inflict. There’s always a boy who draws penises everywhere. Or the naked feminine form that is more naked breast than all the rest of the body. These pornographic images are left everywhere, from the wall around the payphone at school to scratching pornographic phrases into the paint of the metal doors or girls’ lockers, to tagging the walkways and walls around school and the neighborhood. There are the boys who stand around sniggering as they watch girls “discover” the pornographic tagging. The trick, we girls and women are told, is to act like it’s nothing; if we don’t react, guys will stop; or, we’re told it’s not ladylike to notice or make a fuss — another set of lying lessons we’re taught which marginalizes us to protect the boys. At one school — I think I was in the seventh grade — the teacher pulled down the rolled up world map and a huge rubber penis fell out. At another school, we came into health class one day to find that someone had left a drawing of cartoon fillatio. At yet another school — one of my high schools, I think — someone drew a series of line drawings on the pages of the class dictionary, turning it into a flip-book animation of “doggy-style.” Today, our society has added live action pornographic selfies; the ubiquitous “dick pic” is as or more pervasive as the random penis drawings of my school and young adult days.
Throughout all our lives, girls and women are objects of crude or outright lewd humor. Throughout all our lives, no matter what commonplace, completely non-sexual activity we are busy with, if men are there, they are acting out their dominance in these thoughtless micro-aggressions. There’s the guy whose hand always finds an inappropriate place to rest in crowded group settings ––Yet, those same men have no difficulty keeping their hands away from other men’s sensitive areas in those same group settings; you don’t hear about group picks where dudes grab another dude’s butt or groin. To continue, we can never evade the dude who always seems to be on hand to invade our space, our time, our sense of self and safety. There are the guys who just cannot imagine we might like to look nice for our own self image and NOT to attract them. There are those boys and men who seem incapable of seeing us enjoy being alone. Where do they get the messages that we want them to always be in our thoughts, part of our activities, welcome in every space where we may be… why do men seem to believe that women cannot exist without craving their attention, their advances, their touch? Even our entertainments teach girls and women lessons that it’s just the way things are. Why is stalking ever a romantic gesture? How many romantic movie endings are predicated on a guy successfully stalking a woman and convincing her that’s what love is?
Really, let’s be clear, gentlemen… When we’re sitting quietly, alone in the corner of the library, our noses in a book, that is NOT an invitation to you. When we’re in the isle buying sanitary products, we are NOT waiting for you to hit on us!
The thing is… the worst thing is… it’s not just one experience. Sadly, every woman will know a lifetime of incidences and witnessing incidences of micro-aggressions, of a culture of marginalization, of oppression that is just part of growing up female. It’s more than direct, easily definable personal incidences; it’s all the micro-aggressions of jokes and colloquialisms and general attitudes telling girls and women all the time that we are less, we are not as valuable as men because we were not born with a penis, that our value is defined by the service to the penis. It’s an insult to tell a guy, “you throw like a girl” or to call them “girly” or “effeminate.” We are taught the lessons of being less every moment of every day in every place, both private and public, in our society. These are not lessons we should have to learn or need to teach our next generation of girls and women. It must change and the change must begin with men stepping up to challenge and change themselves and every man they know or will ever know.
The #MeToo trend must finally mean real change at last, it must mean men realizing their own casual normalization of millennia of oppression of women. We cannot allow another generation of girls to grow up learning the lessons of Life women have always endured.